UT Editor Race: Roche on track for win, but significant RON vote remains

At 81.1%, Roche is set to win, but she is faced with repairing reputational damage of UT

According to a poll conducted by Trinity News, sole candidate Clara Roche is poised to become the next editor of the University Times (UT), with a share of 81.1% of the first-preference vote.

While over a third of respondents (34.22%) indicated that they were still undecided, that can be expected in an uncontested race and does not necessarily reflect on the candidate. Of those who had decided, 19.13% intended to vote to re-open nominations (RON) which is the second highest number of RON votes in an uncontested race behind the education race (19.43%). This should not be surprising considering UT has faced significant scandal in recent years, with last year’s sole UT Editor candidate Mairead Maguire losing to a RON vote. This also indicates some frustration in the student population that not all of the races are uncontested. 

Her support was largely consistent among all demographics. Her support among Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (AHSS) students was slightly larger than other faculties, at 54.94%. Among Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) students, her support was at 48.31%, and among Health Science students it was at 52.17%.  Women were more likely (54.37%) than men (49.35%) to vote for Roche. 

Roche is a fourth year history and politics student and has been involved in UT since first year. She has been a contributing writer, a staff writer, deputy societies editor, a member of the Editorial Board and Deputy Editor for UT. She has also contributed to Evergreen Trinity, an environmental magazine, and worked with the Trinity Ability Co_Op as a student trainer and a member of the Schools Outreach Subcommittee. She played a pivotal role in severing the paper’s relationship with The Irish Times in October, which previously printed the newspaper. UT previously announced they were “actively exploring alternative arrangements” for printing in October 2021, and also pulled advertisements for The Irish Times student subscription.

Roche emphasised her experience with UT, telling the Dining Hall hustings that she has “the most experience and the strongest vision to make the paper the best it can be”. She pledged to use her experience “to make UT a welcoming place for the entire college community”. During my three years with the University Times, I gained experience writing and sourcing content for each section, building and maintaining sources, and managing and collaborating with a staff of over seventy writers.

Roche is one of four senior UT staff members to be sacked in October, after 32 members of staff signed a letter calling for the resignation of UT Editor Ailbhe Noonan. The letter alleged that Noonan’s editorship was “untenable”, saying she had been late for multiple meetings, or missed them entirely. It also alleged that she did not have an “adequate plan” for their print run, and that she left staff members in the office during print weekend, not returning until the afternoon the next day. 

Noonan accepted some of the criticism as valid, saying: “As regards the lack of contact with various section editors during print weekend: once again, going into print weekend was less organised than it should have been, and I should have had a better plan in place”.

“As soon as the issue was raised, I contacted the senior team to acknowledge the criticisms, draft a plan together, and to plan a meeting to help things go forwards more smoothly following print.” Noonan’s email, which fired Roche as the Deputy Editor, cited a “breakdown of trust and professionalism which cannot be repaired”. While Noonan remained in place as Editor, UT continued to haemorrhage staff.

Following this incident, a smaller team of staff and less visible presence on campus may have left students unsure about the structure and value of UT, which puts student journalism in College in a tenuous position. The presence of two papers can ensure accountability, full coverage of all College news and participation for all students who wish to write. Roche has shown that she understands these concerns and plans to address these concerns. Her slogan, “Clarify UT”, is based on manifesto promises to ensure transparency, accountability and integrity. 

At the media hustings on Friday, Roche expressed the hope that many of the staff that have left would return “under different leadership”. She highlighted that many former staff had migrated to other publications on campus, and said that this experience could be brought to UT to “hopefully restore the quality of the staff”. When asked about restoring the paper’s reputation after “scandal after scandal”, she said that she “definitely believes” that the paper’s reputation is redeemable.

Throughout the campaign and in her manifesto, Roche emphasised accountability, proposing to create a constitution for UT to codify the paper’s editorial and ethics policy. She also pledged to use her platform to call for a college-wide referendum to make the UT Editor impeachable, and speaking to Trinity News Roche said that because the UT editor is voted on by the student body, it is “only right” that they should have some say on how they’re performing and whether they’re happy with the running of the paper. In her manifesto, she stated that “if the Editor is democratically elected by the student population, they should be answerable to students in the same way”. She also pledged to organise regular town halls and College-wide surveys “to ensure that students have a platform to raise issues or share ideas that they have”. 

She also aims to create a Board of Advisors consisting of a “a previous editor of Trinity news, a previous editor of UT, someone from the college with a legal background ,and someone on the college’s communications team”. Roche believes that this would assist in the creation of a constitution, and that this would be another step towards improving accountability: “If there was an internal dispute within UT or a problem that somebody outside of UT had with it, they could call on the board of advisors”.

At Council hustings, when asked how she plans to codify UT’s Editorial and Ethics policy, Roche said that she would make the writing of the UT constitution a “collaborative” process, also adding that if UT is able to build up a diverse staff, that they could help write a constitution that “highlights all voices”.

In her manifesto she proposed expanding UT’s social media presence to reach more students, by creating independent TikTok accounts for Radius, the paper’s culture supplement. She highlighted that UT should be an “enjoyable environment” for students of all backgrounds” and wants to organise regular social events to encourage staff bonding. Roche said that she plans to reintroduce positions of Irish language editor, LGBTQ+ rights correspondent, and Ethnic Minorities correspondent, to ensure that UT’s reporting covers “the entirety of Trinity’s diverse population”. This will surely coincide with her addressing core staffing issues, along with other efforts such as social events, workshops, sign-up fairs, and possibly what she has called “moving UT’s presence outside of House 6”.

On the Irish language, she promised to “build upon the paper’s strong Irish language content” by expanding the section to include articles not related to College happenings or the language itself. 

She emphasised accessibility throughout the campaign as a member of the Trinity Ability Co_Op, pledging to reform the paper’s social media presence to include alt text and text to speech, as well as audio reads of long-form articles. As House 6 is currently wheelchair inaccessible, she also said that she would facilitate alternative meeting locations on request, and at the Equality Hustings suggested that an anonymous submission form may be a good way of protecting student privacy in a situation where UT needed to respond to accessibility on an “on-requested” basis with the Central Societies Committee (CSC).

She also pledged to collaborate with the Trinity Access Programme. When questioned on how to accommodate students with responsibilities such as part-time work, she said that she would promote a “more collaborative” working environment, and suggested “maybe having one student do the research and one do the writing”. She also said that she would appoint a Welfare Officer, and to also arrange a sensitivity training in order to help writers feel equipped to handle sensitive topics in a “tactful and appropriate way”.

Roche has also expressed an interest in ensuring that UT’s coverage is accessible and relevant to all students. She has praised UT’s coverage of postgraduate issues throughout the year saying: “hopefully the fact that we had such good postgraduate coverage this year will encourage postgraduate students to get involved”. Similarly, she stressed that postgraduate students have as valid of a “a need to contribute to the media as undergraduates”, and proposed more widespread advertisement of available positions as well as the appointment of a “postgraduate correspondent to make sure that there’s somebody on staff to keep those issues covered”. Such a decision will likely make her popular among postgraduate students wishing for more representation. However, it is unsure whether this favour will have any significant impact, as postgraduate students have far lower voter turnout than undergraduates. 

Because this is an uncontested race, it shouldn’t come to a surprise to anyone that Roche is set to win the UT election, and she has presented herself to be a competent journalist and editor. Should she be elected, the real challenge will start when she takes leadership of the newspaper. As it stands, UT faces severe staff shortages and serious legacy issues, not all of which are the fault of just one person. As a publication funded by the student body facing scandal, the quality of next year’s volume and the behaviour of the new editor will be monitored closely. Time will tell if Roche can keep her manifesto promise of restoring UT’s reputation of “holding power to account”, and providing students with accurate, important and up-to-date information about issues relevant to them.